A-Rod Vs. Lance Armstrong In The Court Of Public Opinion

A-Rod Vs. Lance Armstrong In The Court Of Public Opinion

A-Rod Vs. Lance Armstrong In The Court Of Public Opinion

Kurt Badenhausen | 11/21/2013 | Forbes

Alex Rodriguez stormed out of his hearing Wednesday in New York where he is appealing a 211-game suspension for suspected use of performance enhancing drugs. The abrupt exit by the New York Yankees third baseman was precipitated by the decision by arbitrator Fredric Horowitz that MLB commissioner Bud Selig would not have to testify under oath at the grievance hearing. A-Rod and his lead attorney, Joseph Tacopina, both took to sports radio programs in the afternoon to make their case to the public. “I shouldn’t even serve one inning,” A-Rod told WFAN talk show host Mike Francesa regarding his suspension.

A-Rod’s career path increasingly has been compared to another elite athlete that reached the pinnacle of his sport: Lance Armstrong. A-Rod and Lance were the dominant figures in baseball and cycling for the better part of a decade and both were extremely polarizing figures. Rodriguez won three MVP awards and Armstrong won the Tour de France each year from 1999 to 2005.
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They were the top earnings in their respective sport because of their performance and marketability. Armstrong’s earnings peaked at $28 million a year, while A-Rod signed a pair of playing contracts worth more than $250 million each. Rodriguez’s earnings hit a high of $36 million in 2010 in Forbes’ annual look at the world’s highest paid athletes. The pair attracted millions of dollars from endorsement partners, who wanted to be associated with their historic athletic achievements.

Armstrong had his mea culpa moment in January when he finally fessed up to years of PED use in a TV interview with Oprah Winfrey. In 2009, A-Rod copped to using steroids over a three year period while playing for the Texas Rangers in the early 2000s, but the jury is still out on the most recent allegations surrounding the Biogenesis scandal. Yet in the court of public opinion, Rodriguez and Armstrong are joined at the hip among the most disliked athletes.

“These guys have fallen like a rock,” says Paul Smith, CEO of sports marketing research firm Repucom, when reviewing historical results of Repucom’s Celebrity DBI, which quantifies consumer perceptions of celebrities. Five years ago, A-Rod and Armstrong both had appeal scores over 70 and ranked highly among athletes on other attributes like “aspiration” and “endorsement.”

The latest DBI figures tell a different story. A-Rod’s appeal score has fallen to 47 and ranks among the bottom three in the sports category with only sprinter Oscar Pistorius and former Penn State football coach Joe Paterno faring worse with the public. A-Rod was expected to restore baseball’s all-time home run record to an untarnished slugger and lead baseball out of its steroid era when he signed his 10-year, $275 million contract with the Yankees in 2007. Instead the public today views him on par with a Paralympic athlete facing murder charges and a deceased coach tarnished by the child sex abuse scandal at his school. Armstrong also ranks near the bottom with a score of 55, down from 77 in 2008.

The story is the same on the DBI “aspiration” attribute, which measures to what degree a celebrity has a life to which they’d aspire. A-Rod’s score plummeted from 63 to 47 over the past five years, and ranks in the bottom 4% of the 3,195 celebrities in DBI’s database. He ranks 16th worst among the 1,100 DBI athletes. The story is even worse for Armstrong, whose aspiration sunk from 63 to 45 during the same period and ranks 12th worst among athletes.

Rodriguez’s endorsement profile never matched his place in the game, but he did have agreements with Nike, PepsiCo PEP +0.33%, Rawlings, Colgate-Palmolive CL -0.2%, General Mills GIS +0.08% and others during his career. Those deals are all done. A-Rod’s DBI “endorsement” score, which gauges whether a celebrity is an effective product spokesperson, dropped from 66 to 42 since 2008, and he now ranks as the fourth worst potential endorser in sports, ahead of only Pistorius, Paterno and Dennis Rodman. Armstrong was one the top pitchman in American sports bringing in close to $15 million annually at his peak from partners like Nike, Bristol-Myers, Subaru, Oakley and Anheuser-Busch. Armstrong is now toxic with corporate America. Armstrong’s endorsement score fell from 70 to 42 over the past five years and he ranks sixth worst among athletes.

There is still hope for A-Rod, as the U.S. public is a “very forgiving beast,” says Repucom’s Smith. “One advantage A-Rod has is that he is still playing. He has the ability to resonate with the public in his field of play.” A-Rod’s aspiration and endorsement scores both jumped roughly 25% during 2009 when his year started with a PED admission and ended with the Yankees winning the World Series. The slugger has gained a measure of sympathy in recent months, as part of the public thinks MLB overstepped its bounds with a suspension four times longer than any of the other 12 players penalized in August for suspected PED use. A-Rod picked up a few more supporters in August as the “victim” when he was drilled by a 92 mile per hour fastball by Boston Red Sox pitcher Ryan Dempster with many speculating the pitch was in retaliation for A-Rod’s appeal of his suspension. Smith is less optimistic regarding Armstrong. “Lance has no chance to redeem himself from a competition standpoint,” he says.

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